Getting to Know Dr. Saliha Afridi

Dr. Saliha Afridi, Clinical Psychologist and Managing Director at The LightHouse Arabia

1. Tell us about LightHouse Arabia? What inspired you to start this business?

After having worked in a private group practice in the UAE I realized that a big part of who I am was not being exercised—and that is the part that serves the community. Once I realized this about myself I started to interview at every clinic and school from Sharjah to Abu Dhabi—but I found good intentions wrapped up in red tape (and blue tape and yellow tape) to the point of complete inaction.

During this period I was approached by a group of GCC individuals who wanted me to teach them about grief. All of them had been touched by grief in one way or another—some lost their mothers, others lost their fathers or their siblings, and one lost a marriage because he could not support his grieving wife. After we worked together, they felt that the whole community should be educated on how to grieve, and how to support someone who is grieving. They wanted to pay me a salary and wanted me to deliver.

2. Who is a person that you considered as a role model early in your life? How and why does this person impact your life?

Since as early as I can remember my father has been my role model. He was and still is. I have loved and been inspired by his zest for life, his gregarious personality, his generous heart, his passionate vision, his untiring work ethic and his fearlessness as he pursued his dreams!

I believed I could do anything and be anyone, not because of what he said, but because of how he lived. I am what I am because of him. Having said this, as I got older, I realized that my mother was an equally important role model for me… I didn’t realize that till later in life but she modeled for me some of my most defining traits—If it was not for her discipline, her steadfastness, her dedication, her commitment and her single-minded that showed me how to build a life and live it with values, I would not be where I am today.

As cliché as it sounds- I say this after a lot of reflection and consideration. My parents have been and still are my biggest inspiration.

3. If you are in a bad mood, do you prefer to be left alone or have someone to cheer you up?

I typically prefer to be alone when I am upset or in a bad mood. Being alone helps me rest and recalibrate myself faster.

4. How do you spend your weekends?

My weekends consist of the following 3 things:

One on one time with my husband. My husband works in KSA so we make it a point to spend one on one time with each other on the weekends. This could be used for going out to dinner or sitting at home talking about things that are important to us.

Time alone – this could be used for catching up on reading or scheduled “downtime” – where I literally don’t do anything. There are days where I spent the whole morning and afternoon in bed.

Time with my kids. During the week it can get hectic with most of the time spent school projects or after-school activities. This is why having some unstructured time on weekends to spend with each other is important for me.

5. What’s the one thing that people always misunderstand about you?

They think I am an extrovert because I engage well socially and can be in front of large groups of people and be the center of a crowd! Whereas, I am actually an introvert who learned how to play the part of an extrovert really well (thanks to my father!)

People are also shocked to hear that I have a doctorate and now pursuing another one. Not sure what assumptions they are making and why, but they certainly get a puzzled and surprised look when they hear about my education and my accomplishments.

6. What personal goals are on your bucket list this year?

I have two very important goals this year:

First, I really want to make an impact on the policy and awareness and prevention of mental illness on a large scale this year. I have been working towards this goal for the last 10 years, but I feel that now I have the ‘The LightHouse’ team and the capacity to actually move the needle in this mission.

Second, this is the year where I will spend a lot of my time exploring my inner castle. I have been in intense analysis (insight-oriented therapy) for the last 4 months and now have started my education as a Jungian Analyst diplomat in training at the Jung Institute in Zurich. I feel the external world won’t be as distracting or have as much of my attention as the internal world this year….or maybe even the years to come.

7. If you could spend a day in someone else’s shoes, whose would they be? Why?

My 3 year old daughter- Salama- I think everything we need to know we are born with… so much wisdom… fearlessness… connection to the people and things that matter … embracing the moment .. loving everyone.. no discrimination of race, religion, culture, … no boundaries… being excited by what adults call the ‘ordinary’ … the list goes on… I think it would be magical to spend a day in her shoes.

8. What’s one thing your mother/father taught you that completely changed your life?

We have a responsibility to our community and our families. You don’t wait to give to others until you have a lot – you give of what you have every day. Give of your time, energy, skills, prayers, money… whatever it is, but give.

9. What’s the first career you dreamed of having as a kid?

I wanted to be a medical doctor. My father really wanted this for me also. I wanted to heal the ill, fix the broken. I think the job of a therapist for me is much better suited. I don’t want to heal anyone anymore. I don’t believe that is my life’s purpose. I would much rather be their companion and walk alongside them on their journey towards healing themselves. They don’t need my help, they need my support- I think everything they need is inside of them.

10. What is your physical and mental wellbeing routine?
I outsource whatever I can- laundry, cooking, cleaning- anything that doesn’t require me personally.

I work out at least 3-4 times a week- this keeps me balanced and grounded.

I check my email 1-2 x a day because if I don’t control my schedule others will.

I read- it energizes me.

I go out with my friends- it refills me.

I laugh with my children- it reminds me of what is important.

I fast- it rests my body and calms my spirit.

I accept my faults—while working towards a value-driven life.

I avoid processed foods- I eat foods that give me life.

I meditate- even if it is for 1 minute at a time.

I engage in insight-oriented therapy. To evolve is my highest goal.

I journal. It keeps me connected to my inner landscape.

I set goals because I want my days to count and my life to matter.

I surrender- if I can’t change it, I am going to let it go.

11. What is the most important characteristic that every leader should possess?

I believe a leader should be able to empower his/her people. This means listening, collaborating, being curious, letting go of control, taking chances, trusting and accepting one’s team members. If you are in a position of leadership to accomplish a goal, or if you assume that position to feed your ego–then you are closer to a dictator than a leader. And just because you are in a leadership role does not make you a leader.

A true leader has a group of people who trust him/her and follow his/her guidance. If you are a person who is on a mission and who wants to empower his/her people to own, build, and work towards that goal, … then you are truly a leader.

I read once that a true leader is one who when the task is completed his/her people say ‘I did it on my own’.

12. What is your favorite quote? Why?

“The trouble is you think you have time”.

I don’t know who said it – some people credit Buddha, others Jack Kornfield, in any case – I love it because it reminds me to live life on purpose. To live with intention. To live with urgency. This day will never come again. How do I live this moment fully? How do I make this day count?

13. What’s your philosophy in life?

An “oops” is way easier to live with than a ‘what if’

14. What’s your favorite book/movie of all time and why did it speak to you so much?

I read a book every week or two, so this is a very difficult question for me! But If I had to pick one, it would be ‘Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak.

I loved it because it spoke about love (or lack of love) in all its ways- love between friends, between community members, between husband and wife, between lovers, between people of different ideologies, and between parent and child … the principles and ‘rules of love’ are the same in every relationship… love has to do more with the lover than the beloved… and I believe that in the final analysis, all religions and prophets preached the same thing – God is Love and Love is God

15. What is a relationship (whether professional or personal) deal breaker for you?

In all honesty, in my personal relationships, I do not have a ‘deal breaker’. I believe we all have good and bad in us and where one person has one fault—the other has another fault. We cannot judge people until we have reached perfection ourselves. I chose to see my relationships as a whole and as being imperfect. Human beings are fallible, and our relationships are meant to fail us at some point or another. To expect perfection is the surest way to eliminate relationships quickly.

As long as we have trust and honesty and we can create safety and talk openly about our struggles and have a sense of fairness and expect of our partners what they can expect from us and vice versa then I think deal breakers don’t need to exist.

This doesn’t mean that I haven’t moved people from my inner circle to the outer circle – or I haven’t withdrawn from certain relationships for a period of time to heal after a rupture but deal breakers—meaning an end of a relationship as a result of some behavior– that’s very rare for me.

Having said that, there are two traits that would result in me investing less time and energy in a relationship:

1. I think if someone was a pathological liar then I could not invest in that relationship as much. If I cannot trust the person, then the relationship is a castle made of sand.

2. If someone has double standards in a relationship, especially in male/female relationships. I am not one of those women who can think ‘boys will be boys’ and girls’ should be ‘sugar and spice and everything nice’. Humanity, honesty, integrity, justice are human rights- men and women alike.

16. What is your all-time pet peeve?

People who are late without any notice or without concern. Time is the most precious ‘commodity’ we have now —- letting people know you are running late is not a big ask.

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